The song Twist Kamariya from Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Bareilly ki Barfi features a casually confident Kriti Sanon acceding to the demands of the lyrics by thrusting her waist with great gusto. Her lithe midriff is promptly declared to be worth “sau lakh”, which is approximately equivalent to the great metaphorical significance that Hindi film songs normally bestow on that seemingly innocuous body part.
If any of Hindi cinema’s musical odes are to be believed, female midriffs, particularly the slim ones, have the potential to magically catalyse an unpredictable and mostly inexplicable effects. Female waists cause male characters to malfunction in several ways, providing further proof (if it was needed) that in Hindi cinema, heros and lechers are often interchangeable species.
For instance, in Teri Kamar Ko from Great Grand Masti (2016), the midriff causes three men to whistle involuntarily. Since Sonakshi Sinha’s waist attracts an unsolicited pinch in Rowdy Rathore (2012), it is hardly surprising that Akshay Kumar eventually declares that he lost his heart to her chikni kamar (beautiful waist) in Dhadang Dhadang.
In Teri Patli Kamar Mein Hai Jaadoo from Loafer (1996) the hero freely harasses the heroine without fear of retribution even as he believes her body to be invested with enough magical capabilities to make Gandalf seem inept.
In Kar Gayi Chull from Kapoor and Sons (2016), the male character marvels at the potency of the female waist with marginally greater scientific acumen. He declares that the physics of the woman’s swinging waist is too arcane for his capabilities with the lines “daaye, baaye kaise kamar tu juhaalye, physics samajh nahi aaye”.
Gyrating waists don’t just confuse individual men. They also have the power to jolt cities and states. Consider Dilwaalon Ke Dil Ka Karaar from Shool (1999) where Shilpa Shetty’s waist helpfully claims full responsibility for the loot of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, or I Shake My Kamariya from Mumbai Can Dance Saala (2015), in which the aforementioned waist jolts Mumbai and, strangely enough, London.
Chikni Chameli’s waist from Agneepath (2012) can slay thousands with a single gyration. By the time Dabanng 2 (2012) rolled around, however, the metaphor had gotten old. In Fevicol Se, the hero acknowledges that although the capacity of the woman’s waist to move cities is an “old story”, he is enamored of her nonetheless.
Such is the flexibility of the female waist, that it has been compared to a range of sundry objects and ideas, from pendulums (Move Your Lakk from Noor, 2017) to rainbows (Jhanak Jhanak Tori Baaje from Mere Huzoor, 1968), and warning systems (Kamariya Lachke Re, Babu Zara Bachke Re from Mela, (2000).
The female midriff is also a veritable repository of complex and dubious emotions, including the reigning favourite – nationalism. In Imported Kamariya from Shanghai (2012), a foreigner rhapsodises about how her well-travelled waist received a rousing welcome in India. Desi Girl from Dostana (2008) features a couple of men emphatically praising an Indian woman’s allure by invoking her waist with the lines “Pade kamar pe jo nazar, saare sapnon mein rang bhar jaaye”.
Although waists have obviously sexual connotations, they have been exempted from the tremendous sexualisation that surrounds breasts. Consequently, they offer the Goldilocks blend for songs that want to be raunchy without attracting much censure.
The peculiar brand of show and tell that is unique to Hindi film songs means that the waists that male and female characters sing about are almost always on glaring display. Since female midriffs are bare in the songs that reference their allure, only needs to trace the mention of the waist in Hindi film songs to see how the Indian female body ideal has evolved over time. Although a patli kamar (slim waist) has always been desirable, the definition of thinness has changed drastically.
In Haye Haye Dukhi Jaaye from Pyar Ka Rishta (1973), for instance, an amply endowed Mumtaz gyrates with abandon even as she blithely declares that her aching waist prevents her from dancing. When a couple of women sing about their waists in Patli Kamar Lambe Baal from Loha (1987), their waists are hardly size zero material.
On the other hand, in more recent songs like Chamma Chamma from China Gate (1998), and Lazy Lamhe from Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008), the waists in question are svelte enough to seem entirely too unreal. In Character Dheela from Ready (2011) Salman Khan provides a curious kind of mathematical formula: amount of enjoyment gained from a female midriff is inversely proportional to its circumference: “kamar patli ho jitni bhi, mazza utna nasheela hai”.
As the waists have shrunk in girth, the demands being made of them have increased. In Tirchi Nazar Hai Patli Kamar Hai from Barsaat (1949) and Kamar Patli Nazar Bijli from Kahin Din Kahin Raat (1968) men are content to look at women’s midriffs and sing paeans to their bodies. In Dance Basanti from Ungli (2014), on the other hand, Emraan Hashmi asks the titular Basanti to gyrate her waist to a hit song so that his heart can transform from pauper to prince.
Baadshah asks the woman to move her waist from night to morning in Move Your Lakk. In The Goggle Song from Mubarakan (2017) men cavalierly advise women to not think too much and just move their waists instead.
Although men and women in Hindi films sing about female waists with equal enthusiasm, the male waist escapes a similar fate. Men may display their ripped torsos with gleeful abandon, but they do not often sing about their own waists. Shake it like Shammi from Hasee Toh Phasee (2014), in which an errant waist won’t obey the dictums of its male owner (“lakh mein rokun, maane na kamariya nikammi”) is a rare exception.
The idea of a male waist even being discussed in terms of thinness or beauty seems laughably far-fetched. In Patli Kamar Nazuk Umar from Lootera (1965), for instance, Dara Singh is in drag, and attempting to woo a gang of sailors when he refers to his slim waist. The macho hero’s assertion is meant to be funny, because unlike the waist of a woman, his midriff is far from being thin, and free from the expectation of being delicate.